ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Issues Update on
Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch Fertilizer Warning

Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

October 2003 News

Retrospective study confirms potential risks to dogs.

In response to increasing reports of dogs consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer, a retrospective examination of case data collected from January 2002 to April 2003 was conducted by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center. The study concluded that dogs consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer may become ill, exhibiting signs consistent with methylxanthine toxicosis, which is similar to those seen with chocolate poisonings. The data suggests the most common signs that occurred following ingestion were vomiting and muscle tremors. Although it was not possible to quantify exact oral dosage amounts, the severity of clinical signs did appear to increase with the larger amounts anecdotally reported. "Since the updated data confirms that dogs can exhibit certain clinical effects after consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer, the ASPCA advises pet owners that they should avoid using this fertilizer around unsupervised dogs, and dogs with indiscriminate eating habits," comments Dr. Steven Hansen, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

The retrospective study was presented at the September 2003 North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology. The study includes six cases of dogs ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer that were received and managed by veterinarians at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center between January 2002 and April 2003. Of the total case data collected by the center, these six were selected for further study because the final outcome of the animal's condition was known. There was a clear observation and/or evidence of ingestion and the managing veterinarian assessed the animals' clinical signs as having a medium to high likelihood of being related to the cocoa bean shell mulch exposure. Within the selected cases, 50% reported vomiting, 33% involved muscle tremors (the amount ingested in these cases were described as "large" or "significant") and 17% had elevated heart rates, hyperactivity, or diarrhea. In 33% of the cases no clinical signs developed. California was the state from which more than half the cases were reported.

Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production, and are frequently sold and used for landscaping by homeowners. Some dogs appear to find the mulch attractive and ingest varying amounts. In general, while unprocessed cocoa beans, which come from the Theobroma cacao plant, contain approximately 1-4% theobromine and 0.07-0.36% caffeine, the theobromine content of processed cocoa bean shell mulch reportedly ranges from 0.19-2.98%. Dogs are known to be very sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines.

If a dog has eaten cocoa bean mulch fertilizer it is important to immediately contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Treatment will depend on how much cocoa bean mulch a dog has eaten, when the mulch was eaten, and whether the dog is sick. Recommended care may include placing your dog under veterinary observation, inducing vomiting, and/or controlling a rapid heartbeat or seizures. The entire contents of the study on Cocoa Bean Mulch As A Cause Of Methylxanthine Toxicosis In Dogs can be found at: http://www.apcc.aspca.org/cocoabeanmulch.

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